It is now over 20 years (and two changes in regulations) since law was introduced, requiring duty holders to survey, identify and manage asbestos within their premises.
Asbestos has been used for thousands of years but was used in particularly high quantities in buildings materials, fire/heat protection and other products between 1950 and 1980. Around 5000 people per year are still dying from diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos. As most asbestos related diseases have a latency period between 10 and 50 years from exposure lots of these deaths are people aged over 75 and were exposed to asbestos during the manufacturing and installation of asbestos products. It is predicted that deaths from exposure to asbestos are reaching their peak and are expected to begin falling as people are no longer being exposed.
This leads some people to believe that younger workers (i.e people who started work in the 90s and 2000s when legislation about asbestos was becoming more stringent) are no longer contracting asbestos related diseases and that the risks are generally low. In fact, some of those people who are contracting diseases are tradesmen who have worked in existing buildings and have been exposed to disturbed building materials containing asbestos. Such tradesmen including joiners, electricians, plumbers as young as 40 years old.
Millions of properties, both domestic and industrial still contain asbestos materials within their structure. Such materials are hard to spot, even by trained surveyors. Work which involves drilling or cutting into existing building materials or which involves removing or disturbing parts of a building structure can cause hidden asbestos to release fibres. Such fibres which can be breathed in and lodge in your lungs for life.
One of the problems associated with asbestos is that you cannot see, smell or feel the fibres in the air or on your clothes, so you do not know asbestos is there. Failure to ensure that workers know when they might come into contact with asbestos, and failure to ensure that they know what procedures to follow, will put them at risk.
The HSE has recently launched a new campaign on asbestos to help ensure that duty holders understand their legal duties to manage asbestos in buildings they control.
The duties under the regulations are fairly simple:
- Assess whether there are any ACM, their locations, the amount present and their condition.
- Presume materials contain asbestos unless there is strong evidence that they do not
- Keep an up-to-date record of the locations of ACM and their condition. This includes:
- Implement an asbestos management plan to manage the risk – this should be monitored and reviewed every 12 months and updated whenever there are any changes.
- Assess the risk of anybody being exposed to asbestos fibres.
- Provide anybody who may encounter ACMs with details – this could be plumbing and heating engineers, electricians, emergency services, construction workers etc.
- Should you conduct any intrusive building work conduct further surveying to identify any hidden asbestos before it is disturbed.
If you are a duty holder you’re required to have an asbestos management survey undertaken if your property was built before the year 2000 (formally called a Type 1 Survey). This type of survey is not intrusive, and samples are only taken from materials that are accessible where there is a risk of disturbance or damage through day to day activities. A Management Survey is valid indefinitely, however, the Management Plan is designed to be a live document, which you must keep up to date.
If you intend to carry out demolition or refurbishment or any activity which may require interference with any structural or decorative elements such as ceilings, plaster boards etc or entry into any areas which would not have been accessed during a normal management survey, then you are required to arrange for a Refurbishment and Demolition Asbestos Survey (formerly known as a Type 3 survey). This is an intrusive survey designed to locate and identify hidden asbestos. A “refurbishment and demolition” survey is valid only for areas which were in scope of the planned survey and future additional surveying could be required should more intrusive work is proposed.
Since the regulations have been in place for over 20 years, it’s not uncommon to find that asbestos surveys have been mislaid and that a management plan has not been maintained. Duty holders are often unsure of whether any actions have been taken in the past to remove or encapsulate existing asbestos materials. If this is the case for you, then you must arrange for a full review by a competent person to ensure you are effectively identifying and managing asbestos. Likewise, if your survey is marked as a type 1, these surveys may not have been conducted to the latest standards and you should arrange for a review.
A few things that might have fallen by the wayside in the last couple of decades:
- The original and any subsequent asbestos surveys may have been lost, misplaced or deleted.
- The requirement for keeping a management plan may not have been understood, so a management plan may never have been implemented.
- You might not have kept up to date with your condition checks.
- Asbestos might have been damaged over time.
- Signage installed following the initial survey may have fallen down, faded or been removed.
- Asbestos materials may have been removed and management plans not updated.
- Encapsulation (special paint) of asbestos roofs/fascias/cladding may have degraded over time.
- Staff who were originally provided with awareness training may have left the business, and existing staff may not have received any training.
- Staff and management may have become complacent about the risks.
Management plans require you to carry out regular checks of the condition of your asbestos – in most cases this is a simple visual check to identify whether there has been any deterioration (any damage should have been identified and report straight away!). If you haven’t been regularly checking the condition of your asbestos, then it is probably time to arrange for a resurvey to be undertaken. This will provide you with a clear idea of what asbestos still remains in the property, its condition and location, as well as information you can use to create your management plan – which you can then ensure is kept up to date. You can find information about managing asbestos here: The duty to manage asbestos in buildings: Overview – HSE
Removing or working with asbestos
If you decide to remove, encapsulate or otherwise carry out work with asbestos you must ensure that you comply with the HSE guidance. Some work requires specialist training, and some work requires you to notify the HSE or apply for a licence. Always contact a licensed and competent asbestos specialist for abatement work and advice. Sentient can guide you to who to ask and help manage your asbestos.
You must provide training to your employees if they are liable to be exposed to asbestos through their work (for example maintenance engineers). If you have asbestos on your premises, you should ensure that you nominate somebody to take charge of the asbestos management plan and you should provide them with training. Our online Asbestos Awareness training module will provide your employees with an understanding of asbestos containing materials and what to do if they discover or accidentally disturb asbestos during the course of their work.
Get Support In Managing Your Asbestos Risk
Understanding the intricacies of how to investigate, mitigate and remedy any impact of asbestos at your business can be challenging. Our in-house Health & Safety and Risk Management consultants can look after the process from start to finish, ensuring you and your staff are protected.